An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Good news on Sarasota Bay’s recovery from SBEP

SBEP logo

From Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Director Dave Tomasko:

Yesterday, Jay [Leverone] and I were accompanied by Dr. Angela Collins (UF SeaGrant) and also Dr. Stephen Hesterberg and Betsy Potter (Gulf Shellfish Institute - GSI) as we visited 34 sites in upper Sarasota Bay. Of those 34 sites, 23 of them were located in areas where seagrass meadows that were mapped in 2018 were no longer visible for mapping in 2020. Last summer, we set up those monitoring sites, in coordination with our partners at the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC). The area of interest for this effort is focused on upper Sarasota Bay, north and south of Longbar Point. That area was the epicenter of the 2,000 acre seagrass loss that occurred after the combination of 2016’s red tide, 2017’s Hurricane Irma, and the more intense 2018 red tide. Keep in mind, the 2018 red tide was likely made worse by the fact that the month of May in 2018 had more urban stormwater runoff than any other May in over 100 years, in combination with the worst year over the past two decades for wastewater overflows.

However, our results from yesterday are encouraging. Of the sites we visited, only 3% showed evidence of continued decline. 41% of the sites were the same as last summer, while 56% showed evidence of improvement – more seagrass than was encountered a year ago. This makes sense, because our water quality across the bay is now better than it has been at any time over the past 5 to 15 years (depending on location).

Longboat Key advances green initiatives to improve, sustain environment

The town of Longboat Key has released another update detailing the progress of initiatives it has set in hopes of improving and sustaining the island’s environment.

The update provides information on projects that have been completed and those that are planned for the future or are in progress.

“Long term, the town has always looked at environmental sustainability and preserving and protecting the environment,” said Support Services Director Carolyn Brown, who leads the program alongside Public Works Director Isaac Brownman and Planning, Building and Zoning Director Allen Parsons.

The initiatives are part of five primary goals laid out in the Town Commission’s strategic planning goals. The updates and staff participation fall under the plan’s goal of Environmental/Resiliency.

Can citizen scientists turn the tide against America’s toxic algal blooms?

‘Red tides’ are an annual hazard in Florida and other coastal areas but a monitoring project can help limit harm to humans

Nearly every day, Florida resident Pradeepa Siva goes paddleboarding through Doctors Pass in Naples. The thin passageway between Moorings Bay and the Gulf of Mexico is home to a couple of friendly dolphins, which Siva often sees on her outings.

But the journey is about more than exercise and wildlife sightings, because when Siva paddleboards she is also participating in a government-funded science project aimed at protecting public health. As climate change brings warming ocean waters, predictions of a dangerous phenomenon known as “red tide” are on the rise.

Red tides occur when warming waters and other factors spur the growth of a type of rust-colored alga known as Karenia brevis. The alga produces toxic compounds that are harmful to humans as well as dolphins, manatees, shellfish and other sea life. Exposure to the organism can cause respiratory illnesses and other problems for people who are exposed, and, in rare occasions, be debilitating or even fatal.

SWFWMD seeks public input on annual MFL prioritization

SWFWMD logo

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is seeking public input to determine the priority of minimum flows and levels (MFLs) establishment for lakes, wetlands, rivers, streams and aquifers in the District as well as the establishment of water reservations. Legislation requires the District to review and, if necessary, revise this schedule each year.

The District will hold a virtual public meeting Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. Members of the public can join the meeting via Microsoft Teams. To join the meeting via Teams, please use this link. Use of the Chrome browser is recommended for best compatibility with Teams.

To join the meeting by telephone only, dial (786) 749-6127 and when prompted enter the conference ID: 875-792-902#.

A minimum flow or level is the limit at which further water withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources or environment. A water reservation defines a quantity of water set aside from the water use permitting process for the protection of fish and wildlife or public health and safety. The District’s Governing Board establishes MFLs and reservations as part of achieving the balance between meeting water needs and sustaining Florida’s natural systems.

The adopted minimum flows and levels priority list and schedule for 2021 is available on the District’s website here. The draft 2022 list will be published on the site following the Governing Board’s Aug. 23 meeting. The revised schedule will be considered for approval at the Board’s October meeting.

Written comments on the draft priority list and schedule may be submitted to Doug Leeper, MFLs Program Lead, at doug.leeper@watermatters.org or to 2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, FL, 34604 no later than Sept. 7.

For more information, please contact Doug Leeper at (352) 269-5863.

No Swim Advisory LIFTED for Sarasota County beaches

Sarasota County logo

UPDATE: The No-Swim Advisory that was issued on Friday, August 12th, has now been lifted after retesting has shown lowered Enterococcus levels.


SARASOTA COUNTY – As a precaution, Sarasota County health officials have issued “No Swim” advisories for the following beaches:

  • Siesta Key Beach
  • North Lido Beach
  • Lido Casino

The amount of enterococcus bacteria found during water quality testing on Monday, Aug. 8 was outside acceptable limits. The beaches remain open, but wading, swimming and water recreation is not recommended when no swim advisories advisory in place.

Some bacteria are naturally present in the environment. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found a link between health and water quality. Signage advising the public not to swim or engage in water recreation will stay in place until follow-up water testing results meet the EPA’s recreational water quality standards.

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County have resampled the beaches today, and expect those results late afternoon tomorrow.

Enterococcus bacteria can come from a variety of natural and human-made sources. These include pet waste, livestock, birds, land-dwelling and marine wildlife, stormwater runoff, and human sewage from failed septic systems and sewage spills.

No sewage spills have been reported within one mile of the posted beaches in the past two weeks.

The rapid response team from Sarasota County have determined the cause of the elevated bacteria levels is likely due to natural sources. The team observed a wrack line of decaying algae around the rocks and along the shoreline. Wrack lines, which provide food for shorebirds and wildlife, act as natural bacteria reservoirs. Additionally, significant rainfall amounts may be contributing to the higher bacteria levels by washing accumulated pollutants from the land surface into waterways.

DOH-Sarasota Environmental Administrator Tom Higginbotham emphasizes that the Florida Healthy Beaches program protects beach goers when conditions are unsuitable for swimming. This is done by testing beach water weekly and providing up-to-date explanations of the results.

“When these bacteria are found at high levels in recreational waters, there is a risk that some people may become ill. People, especially those who are very young, elderly or who have a weak immune system that swallow water while swimming can get stomach or intestinal illnesses. If water contacts a cut or sore, people can get infections or rashes.” said Higginbotham.

Local health officials emphasize that beaches remain open. However, residents and visitors are urged not to wade, swim, or engage in water recreation at these beaches until the advisory is lifted. In addition, you should not eat shellfish such as crabs and shrimp collected in the immediate area of any beach with a no-swim advisory in place. Finfish caught live and healthy can be eaten if filleted.

“Our coastline of over 30 miles of world-class beaches is a wonderful asset to our community,” says Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County. “Let’s work together to help preserve this amenity.”

To help keep beach water safe for swimming and recreation, do not allow pets to roam on beaches and in park areas and pick up pet waste. Additionally, children in diapers and people of all ages with diarrhea should not go into the water.

“It is important to continue monitoring beach conditions when planning a trip to one of our many beach destinations. Please follow the consistent Mote Beach Conditions reports for up-to-date news and info, said Haley.”

For more information:

Visit https://ourgulfenvironment.net and click on water monitoring and then bacterial testing to check beach water testing results of area Gulf beaches.

Call 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437) or visit www.visitbeaches.org. Click on the same link to the mobile-friendly version of the beach conditions report.

The local visitor and convention bureau known as Visit Sarasota County also provides extensive information about the Sarasota area, including its beaches. The website is www.visitsarasota.org.

FWC is doing twice weekly updates on red tide for the state at https://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/, including a sampling map that is updated daily.

NOAA has a Gulf of Mexico HAB forecast (updated twice weekly while the bloom persists) that can be found at https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/hab/gomx.html.

FSU researcher leads team to study conditions for plant survival in ocean desert

West of St. Petersburg in the Gulf of Mexico is an area called the West Florida Shelf. It’s a marine desert, cut off from many of the elements that are essential for life.

But in this nutrient-deficient region, some forms of phytoplankton — microscopic plants that float through the water — are thriving and supporting other forms of life. But how?

Florida State University Associate Professor Angie Knapp and a team of researchers from around the country have received a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate this oceanographic mystery. Knapp, part of the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, will lead the project to examine how iron and nitrogen released from submarine groundwater discharge potentially serves as a fertilizer for phytoplankton in this area and beyond.

“Plant growth in the ocean plays an important role in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, which plays an important role in regulating climate,” Knapp said. “However, plant growth in the ocean is often limited by the availability of nitrogen; thus, we’re focusing on the processes that add and remove nitrogen to and from the ocean.”

Submarine groundwater discharge is a ubiquitous hydrological process characterized by the flow of fresh and brackish groundwater from land into the sea. It plays an important role in moving nutrients, trace elements and gases that are often used by phytoplankton throughout ocean waters.

In this project, researchers want to understand exactly how far these elements are moved through the sea and to what degree they are being used by phytoplankton.

NOAA and Saildrone launch seven hurricane-tracking surface drones

The Saildrone is part of an array of marine and air uncrewed tools NOAA is using to improve forecast models

In partnership with NOAA, Saildrone Inc. is deploying seven ocean drones to collect data from hurricanes during the 2022 hurricane season with the goal of improving hurricane forecasting. For the first year, two saildrones will track hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

This week, Saildrone launched two saildrones into the Gulf of Mexico, one from St. Petersburg, Florida, and another from Port Aransas, Texas. Five other saildrones were successfully launched this summer from the coast of Jacksonville, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands to survey the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

NOAA will use several autonomous instruments this hurricane season to collect ocean and atmospheric data during during hurricanes. Credit: NOAA PMEL

One of the biggest challenges to hurricane forecasting is predicting rapid intensification, when hurricane wind speeds increase at least 35 mph over a 24 hour period. To fully understand how storms intensify, scientists collect data on the exchange of energy between the ocean and atmosphere in the forms of heat and momentum. However, gathering data in this dangerous environment is best accomplished by uncrewed systems.

Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force meets after half-year hiatus

It was a day of sharp questions and soul-searching as Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force met Thursday [Aug. 4] for the first time since February.

The official theme was a mouthful (stay with us): “Prioritization of restoration projects within Basin Management Action Plans, Reasonable Assurance Plans, or alternative restoration plans (and) policy and funding program framework for the prioritization of restoration projects.”

Unofficially, it was broader: Why, after three years of task force effort, is Florida’s water still so troubled?

The question was top-of-mind because the day before, a coalition of 12 environmental groups released a stinging progress report. Since the five-member task force issued a set of recommendations in 2019, “Ecological conditions in Florida have not improved and, in many cases, they have worsened. Lack of meaningful water quality protections have resulted in persistent harmful algal blooms, a record number of manatee deaths, and an overall decline in water quality statewide.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Friends of the Everglades executive director Eve Samples noted “Among the 32 metrics we tracked, only four have been implemented.” She heads one of the dozen nonprofits that compiled the report. ”So there’s a lot of progress to be made.”

Samples went through a list of the task force’s priorities, each followed by “not implemented.”

Neither Samples nor others commenting blamed the group members; rather their frustration was with government, the Legislature and the agencies charged with carrying out the mandates of each.

Florida’s algae bloom response called too limited, too slow

'I don’t think legislators are going to really endorse bigger sticks in this situation.'

When it comes to environmental protection and conservation, Florida government can end up on the side that posits it’s better to allow pollution, and try to do something about it on the back end, than prevent that pollution in the first place.

And that’s causing a serious problem getting a handle on the state’s algae bloom affliction.

“I don’t think legislators are going to really endorse bigger sticks in this situation,” said Mike Parsons, a Florida Gulf Coast University professor and state Blue-Green Algae Task Force member, during the Task Force’s latest meeting.

Without political will to hold polluters accountable, people and organizations collaborating on dealing with blue-green algae proliferation — especially and including the state government — have to run through a series of next-best-thing ideas to put into effect.

Task Force members met with experts and the larger public to reframe the conversation on their challenges, and discuss project prioritization policies, at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Video of August 4th Blue-Green Task Force Meeting »

Study: Most rainwater on Earth contains PFAS exceeding safe levels

New research from Stockholm University shows that PFAS in rainwater around the world are exceeding safe levels. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemical pollutants, often called “forever chemicals” present in many everyday items, like food packaging and clothing. The chemicals leach into the environment, affecting everything from the air we breathe to even rainfall.

The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, tested four selected perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs): perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) in rainwater, soil, and surface waters in different locations globally.

The researchers concluded that PFOA and PFOS levels in rainwater “greatly exceed” the Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory levels from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study also noted that all four of the tested PFAAs in rainwater were often above the Danish drinking water limits, and PFOS levels were usually higher than the Environmental Quality Standard for Inland European Union Surface Water.

Rainwater wasn’t the only problem, either. “Atmospheric deposition also leads to global soils being ubiquitously contaminated and to be often above proposed Dutch guideline values,” the study said.

As such, the authors said there is really no way to avoid these chemicals on Earth anymore.

New boater rules set after completion of emergency dredge on Beer Can Island

Restricted areas on the north end of Longboat Key will only allow swimmers, kayakers and paddleboarders.

The emergency dredging project of Longboat Key’s Canal 1A near Beer Can Island has been completed.

Over the past three weeks, the crews have been working to reopen the passage between the lagoon to the west and Sarasota Bay to the east for wildlife access, tidal flushing and boats.

The town used previously granted permits from state and federal agencies to dredge about 1,500 cubic yards of beach-compatible sand from the waterway.

The crews that excavated the sand were directed to place it on a mound temporarily. The sand will then be moved to the Gulf side of the bridge.

In a “Talk of the Town” segment with Town Manager Tom Harmer, Public Works Department Director Isaac Brownman met on the newly created mound of sand on the area also known as Greer Island. They discussed the ins and outs of the project and what the department saw for the future of the area.

Climate experts predict Southwest Florida will see daily tidal floods by the year 2100

There will only be one day in the year 2100 where nuisance high tide flooding isn't an issue in the Fort Myers area.

Naples will be flooded by incoming tides every day, according to the latest tide predictions coming from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

Experts at NOAA Tuesday released their forecast for high tide flooding days at various locations around the country.

Nuisance flooding can cause everything from flooded roads to backed-up septic and sewage systems to crumbling infrastructure.

Those scenarios are the intermediate predictions, and NOAA didn't release data for high-range predictions.

The low end of the range shows 140 nuisance, or high tide flooding days in Fort Myers and 99 such days Naples by 2100.

Venice offers "Utilities Conservation Kits" to city residents

Venice logo

Indoor and outdoor conservation kits (limited supply) are available for FREE to City of Venice residents and businesses from the Utilities Department.

One of each per household or business can be picked up at the City of Venice Water Treatment Plant at 200 Warfield Ave. N., Building C, between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays. See pictures below.

A City address will need to be provided for pickup.

photo of kits

Photos: City of Venice

Another research study implicates nutrient pollution in exacerbating red tides

New research finds that human pollution influences the severity of red tides more directly than scientists previously understood. The connection sheds light on the need for better water-quality monitoring statewide — and ultimately, to reduce the nutrient pollution flowing into Florida’s waterways.

While red tides occur naturally, scientists have long debated the degree to which they are worsened by high levels of nutrients such as nitrogen from human sources agricultural and urban. Scientists had previously found correlation between so-called nutrient loads and red tide. But the new research offers some of the strongest evidence yet that humans directly influence the severity of the toxic blooms.

The study focuses on the Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida, which carries water and pollutants from Lake Okeechobee as it flows west to the Gulf of Mexico.

In the past, scientists looked for a direct relationship between nitrogen and red tide. But excess nitrogen doesn’t cause red tide — it exacerbates it, an effect that can take weeks. Looking for a short-term correlation did not implicate pollutants.

EPA Announces $132 Million for National Estuary Programs from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

EPA logo

EPA releases guidance on how the agency will administer the program

WASHINGTON – On Jul. 26, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an unprecedented investment of $132 million from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law over the next five years for important work to protect and restore estuaries of national significance, funding projects to address climate resilience, prioritize equity, and manage other key water quality and habitat challenges across 28 estuaries along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico. EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan highlighted the historic investment during a visit to Caño Martín Peña tidal channel in the San Juan Bay Estuary system as part of his Journey to Justice tour visit to Puerto Rico.

The announcement includes guidance for NEPs on how EPA will administer program funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The guidance provides key information, including equity strategies, reporting requirements, and flexibility to the NEPs to address the priorities in their watersheds that are defined by local, city, state, federal, private and non-profit stakeholders. EPA expects NEPs to accelerate Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan implementation, develop strategies and practices that enable these program areas to be resilient and adapt to changing climate conditions, and make investments that ensure water quality and habitat benefits of this program are realized by disadvantaged communities.

New law requires the state to hit certain cleanup levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’

Lawmakers warn that “these are forever chemicals that are within our environment now, and are going to create a major environmental disaster."

The use of PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances that are a possible carcinogen, has spread to a variety of products that touch daily life: non-stick coatings, food products, air particles and foams.

Researchers continue to discover new ways that PFAS enter our environment and bodies.

HB 1475 and companion bill SB 7012 now legally require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set state rules for target cleanup levels of PFAS. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on June 20. It took effect immediately.

There are currently over 12,000 known variants, with PFOA and PHOS being the two most commonly tested chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Stuart, cosponsored this bill alongside Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Plant City, and said that a set of mandated rules from the state’s DEP would ensure municipalities cooperated with, at least, state regulations in managing levels of PFAS.

“These are forever chemicals that are within our environment now, and are going to create a major environmental disaster … If we do not deal with those things now, then we really face some big issues in the future,” Overdorf said.

He stated that while the bill was waiting for the governor’s signature, the federal government came out with temporary, updated advisories of PFAS in drinking water, which he said came in great timing for HB 1475.

Florida’s fertilizer use is affecting beach water quality

If clean water is Florida’s ‘No. 1 issue,’ here’s why keeping grass green isn’t helping

While sources of pollution are many, and the vast majority come from commercial and industrial sources, experts say there’s one piece of the puzzle that many Floridians can help solve.

Some fertilizer that keeps lawns green contains contain high levels of nitrogen or phosphorous — two nutrients known to influence harmful algae blooms. Through careless application or heavy rainfall, those nutrients can eventually make their way into local waters. There, they act as a food source that help fuel the blooms. The state and local governments have taken steps to try to prevent that from happening, like enacting controversial bans during the summer rainy season.

But a Bradenton Herald analysis shows Florida’s tracking system does not provide an accurate picture how much fertilizer is used in the state, and by whom. A request for data on the breakdown of commercial versus residential use of fertilizer raised more questions than it answered.

FAU study assesses climate warming, water management impacts on West Florida's continental shelf

Scientists conducted a study that provides an assessment of the potential effects of climate warming and water management of the West Florida Shelf dynamics during two particular events that affect its hydrology through the lens of a very high-resolution model.

The continental shelf is the submerged extension of a continent and as such it is at the crossroad of terrestrial, oceanic and atmospheric influences. This confluence is the lead driver of the high biological productivity that often characterizes the continental shelf regions. Their productivity is not only critical to the ecosystems that it sustains but also to the livelihood of coastal communities such as tourism, fishing, aquaculture and more.

Anthropogenic climate change is expected to have profound implications on shelf dynamics as changes in local atmospheric circulation, heat, and evaporative fluxes can significantly affect the balance between surface fluxes, horizontal transports and vertical mixing. In addition, changes to freshwater discharge from the continent whether by land management, climate driven rainfall or human-made modified freshwater discharge, have large impacts on shelf dynamics and may mitigate or exacerbate changes associated with climate.

One region where these changes are particularly evident is the Gulf of Mexico. The west Florida coast is under the influence of a significant number of freshwater inputs. They drain fresh water from precipitation (direct or delayed, local or regional) from rivers, streams, lakes, and canals into the near shore, majorly contributing to the estuarine properties of West Florida Shelf waters. This fresh water usually expands westward and southward over the shelf, and contributes to the riverine properties of the inner shelf waters.